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Bringing Books to Life: get involved in the conversation

  • Date: 20 January 2012
  • Area: North
Authors Cath Staincliffe and Jenn Ashworth

Authors Cath Staincliffe and Jenn Ashworth.

Cheshire East holds the highest record in the country for the number of books borrowed from its libraries. Nationally, reading is one of the most popular social and cultural pastimes, and visits to libraries outnumber those to all other cultural institutions combined.

This week, authors found out how many of their books were borrowed by public libraries during the year. Authors receive their tax-free payments in February, and each book loan earned 6.05 pence, which comes from a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funding pot.

Libraries are not only important for their link to Public Lending Right, but for the ongoing opportunities they provide for enjoying and debating literature. Recently the Cheshire East library service collaborated with a number of organisations to bring readers and published writers to the Lyceum Theatre, Crewe to talk about books. Bringing Books to Life was a first, and they hope to follow it with a second event in autumn 2012.

Hosted by Jo Bell, Cheshire Poet and Director of National Poetry Day, the event offered participants the chance to meet, discuss and learn through readings, questions and conversations in small groups lead by each of the four invited authors The two North West writers who took part in the event have achieved national acclaim for their fiction - Cath Staincliff whose work has been serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour and ITV, and Jenn Ashworth who regularly appears at literary events and festivals across the country and whose novels are published internationally. Michael Schmidt, head of publisher Carcanet Press, gave his insightful and entertaining perspective on the current state of poetry publishing, including the opportunities and challenges presented by eBooks.

Bringing Books to Life was run in collaboration with the Lyceum, the Time to Read network of 21 out of 23 library authorities in the North West, The Reading Agency, and publishing houses including Carcanet, Constable & Robinson, Doubleday, Sceptre, and The Random House Group. As well as contributing to the social, educational and economic life of the community, collaborating across sectors in this way supports independent publishers, and in turn increases audiences for the writers they publish and sales of their work. Booksellers Waterstone’s had a table in the theatre foyer and the authors signed copies of all books bought on the day. Following the event, Manchester-based poetry publisher Carcanet has secured support from Surrey public library service to promote the authors they publish through catalogues and displays boards in the libraries.

Another first for Cheshire East libraries was the involvement of Councillor David Brown, who opened the event and has continued his support for the valuable reader development work in the region. Year round, the Cheshire East library service prioritises interactions between readers, writers and their books. The skilled and committed staff want books to be taken off the shelves and read, but in addition, for readers to have opportunities to respond to the texts.

Positive feedback was received from participants and guests alike, with many people saying the event had inspired them to try new authors and to focus more on their own writing. One audience member said, ‘I have had a FANTASTIC day. Can’t put a price on the opportunity to listen to published writers talk and advise.’

Una McLoughlin, Adult Stock Specialist, Cheshire East Libraries, said: 'People get a buzz when they're conversing about their reading. This inaugural event was an opportunity to bring books to life by drawing the authors and their readers closer together. Open questioning on both sides can lead to informed readers and writers, and the participating authors commented on the valuable insights they gained on the day.'

Karen Crook, Public Libraries Librarian commented: ‘We achieved our aim to stimulate readers and writers and worked with a variety of partners to deliver the event. Jo Bell was a wonderful Chair and it was a pleasure to meet the authors, who gave us some very useful feedback. We were grateful for the support of Alison Boyle and Nathan Lee of the Arts Council and we hope to establish this as a regular event.’ A final first of Bringing Books to Life was the launch of Cheshire East's Twitter account to promote the event, using the hashtag #BB2L. You can follow Cheshire East libraries @ceclibraries for more news and information.

Alison Boyle, Relationship Manager for Literature at Arts Council England in the North West said: 'Conversations about writing often inspire new responses to texts. An event where readers can directly question writers gives everyone in the room insights into the mechanics of writing such as plotting and editing as well as a shared experience of the physical and emotional places the author wants to take us to - including new places in the North! Arts Council England commends opportunities for writers to hear first-hand reactions to their work as well, since this feedback loop – with review and response at its heart - supports the enjoyment of literature and the creation of fresh dialogues. The incisiveness of some of the questions to the panel at Bringing Books to Life, many from members of reading groups, demonstrates how these groups, often supported by local libraries, are an important component of sharing and responding to high-quality art. Using digital technologies to provide online reading groups takes us into another exciting sphere, enabling even more people, and potentially a different mix of people, to take part in the conversation.'

To find out more about literature networks and partnerships across the North West, read our case study Literary Link-ups Lead to Success.